Why your Advisor should be your Best Friend

By Natalie Dixon

No one ever told me that being a biology major was easy, especially not after I added a second major spring of sophomore year and studied abroad in the fall of junior year.  Now it comes to spring of junior year, and I am drowning in work both for school and trying to prepare for the MCAT, which I will take two days after I finish exams in May.

I have always been an overachiever, whether it be in sports when I would go home from practice and hit for an extra hour just because I hadn’t gotten in enough swings that day or in school where I was disappointed with any grade less than an A, even in organic chemistry, where the averages were often in the forties.  It was not unusual, then, for me to have the desire to study abroad at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Oxford University, to challenge myself even further.

COCOEN daily photos / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

COCOEN daily photos / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

One particular problem that arose from me being gone for the entire semester was the requirement to be advised. Since freshman year, I had known what classes I would want to take the following semester; and no advisor had ever contradicted me or told me to change my plans. Once I was advised for the first time in my major rather than generally in Franklin, I met Dr. Espelie, who may quite possibly be the most knowledgeable man that I have ever met with respect to which classes fit together and how to obtain the best education possible. He gave me a great plan for the fall semester so that I would take major classes while abroad rather than earning only elective credits.

When the time came in August for me to prepare to leave the US, I decided that I needed to meet my advisor and discuss my plan for this spring.  However, Dr. Espelie’s was very busy and it was almost impossible to set up a meeting time. I wound up stressed about getting advised in time, and I decided to attend walk in hours of a different advisor.

The meeting with the other advisor had gone much like my other appointments in the past; I presented the four classes that I thought I needed to take, with special consideration taken for those that would prepare me for the MCAT.  The advisor had agreed with me and told me that she thought I would definitely be able to handle my chosen classes while studying for the test.  So, when my registration date arrived, I proudly signed up for cell biology, neurobiology, vertebrate physiology, and physics.  I got into all of the specific times that I wanted and happily went through add/drop week without even considering changing my schedule.

That contentment with my choice soon faded as classwork picked up and I became unable to keep up with all of the reading for those classes while still participating in my normal extracurricular activities and maintaining preparation for the MCAT.

When I visited Dr. Espelie, he confirmed my feeling that I should not have taken the science heavy schedule that I did.  He told me that he would never have advised that many difficult science classes at once while trying to prepare for the most difficult test in my life to date.

Though I have been able to keep afloat so far and maintain relatively good scores on my exams thus far, I regret not putting more faith in my advisor, the man paid for his ability to provide valid advice for structuring class schedules based on outside activities as well as other academic concerns.

I tell this story so that others will take my advice and stop to get another opinion.  The classes that you think you have to take can sometimes be put off until a later semester when you will have more time to focus on the demanding content of that subject.  Even though you know yourself best, practice makes perfect and these advisors have been practicing and observing students for a much longer time than any of us have.  Take that extra time to sit down and seriously consider what your advisor says, because he may save you a great deal of headache and heartache.